Questions and answers about UK action in Kurdistan

The UK is committed to the Kurdistan Region according to parliamentary answers provided to APPG Chair Robert Halfon MP, who sought detailed information on bilateral relations with Kurdistan.

Middle East minister, Dr Andrew Murrison told Robert Halfon that the UK continues to enjoy “a close relationship” with the KRG and to support economic and security reform. He says he “reiterated our commitment to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq when I spoke to KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani on 8 January, and these messages were reaffirmed by the British Ambassador to Iraq when he met the political leadership of the Kurdistan Region on 16 January.”

The answers revealed that the UK is providing technical assistance to the tune of £16 million to a World Bank Trust Fund to boost economic reform in Kurdistan and Iraq.

And that the UK helped train nearly 2,300 Peshmerga last year “as part of its long-term commitment to defeating Daesh.”

Another highlight is that, since 2015, the UK has contributed nearly £100 million to the Iraq Humanitarian Pooled Fund, which is administered by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. That amounted in 2018 to $3.2 million to Kurdistan, or about 9% of the total of $36.6 million (including other donor funding).

Dr Murrison also says that the UK has committed £261m in humanitarian support to Iraq since 2014 through its Department for International Development to provide “a vital lifeline to millions with shelter, medical care and clean water.”

The International Trade ministry recorded total trade between the UK and Iraq and Kurdistan at £720m in the year from October 2018 and that this was a 45% increase over the previous year. The ministry says it wants to increase trade and cites participation in a trade conference in Iraq, a trade mission in Kurdistan, and a briefing for British companies by the Consul-General in Erbil as well as doubling UK Export Finance’s market cover from £1bn to £2bn in April 2019.

The trade mission to Kurdistan was suggested to the government by the APPG and took place ten years ago. The group says that there should be another mission. We also need to know how the UK Export Finance’s market cover specifically impacted on Kurdistan.

The answers put the government’s view of the Kurdistan Region on the official record and allow MPs to further explore how to improve relations. The APPG has, for instance, been stressing the need for the UK government to formally invite the KRG political leadership on an official visit to the UK to meet the Prime Minister and others. That would boost the morale and profile of the KRG and enable further detailed discussion about political and economic links.

It is difficult for the layperson to decipher aid statistics compared to the scale of need. MPs will want to drill down on these figures to evaluate how they are making concrete differences. They can do that when the APPG sends a fact-finding delegation to Kurdistan.

Statistics can only go so far in telling the story about aid and trade but the answers to Robert Halfon are a good starting point for understanding and identifying what more could be done.

Gary Kent

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